Loop Planning with file folders (for themes, topics, and unit Studies)

homeschool planning | lesson planning | loop planning

Some subjects, like math and grammar, can be pretty straightforward when planning. But other subjects that are more topic or theme oriented are a little harder to schedule with traditional lesson planning. For those subjects, I’ve found that I really like loop planning.

The idea of loop planning is that you plan the order rather than the timeframe that a lesson is completed. When you finish one theme or unit study, you pull out the next one. There’s no deadline or getting behind; you finish when you are finished.

For instance, I plan my Tapestry of Grace history this way. I have file folders for each history topic we want to cover. Book lists, project templates, notebooking pages, and all other pertinent info goes into the file folder. On my folder, I mark about how long I expect this topic to take, but it’s only a guideline. Some topics take longer than I expect, and some topics finish more quickly. Because I know I have this flexibility, I don’t panic when we take a little longer on a topic; I know it will work out by the end of the year. Also, because I’ve marked approximate lengths of time on my folders. I can make quick judgement calls. (Hmm. I said two weeks for Ancient Incas but we just spent 5 weeks instead of 4 in Egypt. I bet we can cover Incas in just a week.) Whenever we finish one topic, I pull out the next folder to complete.

Simple Steps to Loop Planning Unit Studies

  1. Decide on a list of topics or themes to study.
  2. Decide on a method of organization to compile your resources for each study (file folders, Pinterest boards, Evernote, whatever you like to use).
  3. Decide on an order or arrangement of topics.

*(Optional) Decide on a rough time-frame for each unit or topic.

You can use loop planning for discipline subjects as well (math, spelling, etc.) And I will often default to loop planning whenever I can. If you want to attempt loop planning for all your subjects, here are a few suggestions.

Using Loop Planning for Traditional Subjects

  1. Decide on the number of lessons you need to complete each week.
  2. Set up a filing system for each week. (I love file folders and have a folder for each week.)
  3. File the correct number of lessons for each week inside your file folder. (5 math lessons, 3 latin exercises, 1 spelling list, etc.)

Your done! Pull out the correct folder, finish it, and move on to the next folder when you are ready!

The loop planning method also works really well for creative subjects or extra-curriculars like art, music, or nature study. You can even arrange the subjects themselves to loop. Nature study follows art which follows music, etc. Plan language arts and math everyday, then loop plan history, science, art, etc. completing one or two of these each week.

There’s no end to how you can creatively use loop planning. But the major benefit is that there is no falling behind or meeting a deadline. You are free to enjoy your topic until you’ve exhausted it. You are free to work on it whenever time allows; some weeks you may have 5 days and others you may have 2 days. Loop planning allows for maximum flexibility.

While loop planning has not worked for every subject in our homeschool, a combination of traditional lesson planning and loop planning has worked really well for us. Find a combination that works for you—your personality as well as your homeschool style.

Have more questions or want a little more help on the topic of homeschool planning? Read more about loop planning, other methods of planning, and combining different methods to find your perfect solution in my free course “Planning your Homeschool.” Plus, get free downloads to get you started. 

Click here to find out more!

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5 steps to traditional lesson planning

homeschool lesson planning | homeschool planning

For most people I know, lesson planning is the part of homeschooling that they despise. But I’m a nerd; I love to lesson plan and organize our year. And I have two methods for getting my ducks in a row: traditional lesson planning for subjects like spelling and grammar and loop planning for subjects that are more topic or unit study oriented. (We’ll tackle loop planning in my next post.)

I actually do a lot of my planning during the summer to help relieve some of the time pressure that lesson planning can create, so my school year just about runs itself during the actual school months. During that process, here’s how I break down our year and create traditional lesson plans.

5 Steps to traditional lesson planning

  • Think through vacation days and breaks your family likes to take. Do you want a winter break or spring break? When do you take family vacation? Will you have relatives visiting? Plot these times in your calendar first.
  • Set start and end dates. At this point, these are just rough estimates, you can always move these forward or backward as you define your year. But roughly, when do you want to start and end?
  • Calculate the number of weeks/days in your year. The traditional U.S. school year is about 180 days or 36 weeks. As a result, a lot of your curriculums will be designed for this time frame. However, depending on your state requirements, you can do less or more. Some families school year round; others finish up when the books are completed no matter if that is week 33 or week 48.
  • Divide your year into periods or terms (6 weeks, 9 weeks, 12 weeks). This step is optional. But it can be helpful to break your year into smaller increments: (1) if you plan on having report cards and grading periods, (2) if you are planning unit studies or themes throughout the year, (3) or if you just need to “eat the elephant” a bite at a time. 
  • Divide the number of pages or lessons by the number of weeks in the school year. (The average school year is about 36 weeks.) The answer will be how much needs to be assigned each week.

homeschool planning | plan your year

From there, you can decide how you prefer to keep track of progress. You can write in the lesson numbers each day (but then, if there are sick days or spontaneous field trips, your planner is all messed up), write in lesson numbers for each week (a little more flexibility with this approach), or record how many lessons you complete each week (maximum flexibility, but you will need to double-check that you are completing enough to ensure you finish on time.)

I use a combination of weekly planning and recording. For some assignments, I chart what needs to be finished on a weekly basis. So each week, I fill this in (and never more than 2-3 weeks ahead of where we are, in case of the unexpected): “read pages 20-30” or “complete lessons 35-40.” For subjects that only need to be completed 2 to 3 times a week. I write the subject into my planner and then record the days we worked on those lessons. For instance: FFL (First Language Lessons) M W F; WWE (Writing with Ease) M W; WA (Writing Aids) F

Subjects like math, spelling, grammar, etc. lend themselves to this kind of planning best. The rigid structure of these subjects fits well with the rigid structure of traditional lesson planning. Creative subjects, especially those that are based on theme, topic, or unit study are often easier to plan using loop planning. Stay tuned for my next post for more info on this method.

Have more questions or want a little more help on the topic of homeschool planning? Read more about traditional lesson planning, other methods of planning, and combining different methods to find your perfect solution in my free course “Planning your Homeschool.” Plus, get free downloads to get you started. 

Click here to find out more!

Free Homeschool Planner pages | free download | free homeschool printable | weekly planning pages

3 Benefits of Planning (and why I love my Plum Paper Planners)

benefits of planning | planning 2017 | planners for moms | plum paper planner review

Life doesn’t always happen the way we plan it. And yet, there is something so comforting about having a plan. I love planning and planners, the old-fashioned paper planners,  especially my Plum Paper Planners (see my review and a coupon code at the end of this post). And in spite of the fact that plans change, I’ve found a number of benefits to planning. Here are my top 3.

3 Benefits of Planning

Planning to Create Order Out of Chaos

Just like some people vacuum obsessively so that they can see the nice neat lines in their carpet, and some people just can’t think until their kitchen is clean, I love a nice orderly list of check boxes—the chaos of my life neatly arranged into categories and days of the week and orderly lists. The rest of my life may be in total disarray, but I’m good with that as long as my planner is neat and orderly. So what does that mean? Well, it means I must have no empty boxes at the end of the day. If I decided something did not need to be done, I put an X through the box. If I still need to do it, I put an arrow through the box and write the task into the next day. And if it’s done—CHECK IT OFF!

Planning to Remember

I’ve learned that the physical act of writing helps me to remember things in ways that the iPhone just can’t. No number of reminders and alerts will do for me what checking off a little box in a planner can do. I’m much more likely to remember an event I write into my planner than an event I enter into Google Calendar. Though I use Google Calendar, mainly to sync my husband’s appointments with mine, I have to write events into my planner if they are going to happen.

I also use my planner to remember what has already happened, a special afternoon with a friend, a fun memory, blessings of the day (1,000 gifts Ann Voscamp style), etc. In this way, my planner also becomes my journal or scrapbook, recording the events and memories and special notes of the year.

Planning for Perspective

Planning gives me perspective. I totally write in tasks I’ve already finished so that I can check it off. It helps me combat the feeling that I didn’t get anything done. Most days, I got a lot done, even if it wasn’t what I’d planned. Sometimes “rest” is on my planner. It’s something I need to do, and yet something that I often feel as though I can’t do (because I’m not getting anything done when I rest). I combat that with the power of the little check box. It helps me remember that I am still doing something important when I take the time to recoup. Then there are those days when, honestly, I didn’t do anything but parent. I write that in, too! I parented. I homeschooled. And maybe that’s all I got done. But that alone is doing quite a bit.

What I use (a Plum Paper Planner review)

For the last three years, I’ve used (and loved) Plum Paper Planners. They are cheaper than Erin Condren or Inkwell, comparable to the Happy Planner but with lots of customization options. With a variety of layout options, add-on sections, and cover options, I can customize everything about this planner, making it exactly what I need. In fact, you can choose any start month and add extra months if you want to use it for longer than 12 months. I’ve used Plum Paper Planners to plan my daily life, my homeschool lesson plans, and even to journal our food journey (tracking everything everyone eats and daily symptoms and behaviors). They are perfect for just about everything. Plus, the paper is amazing!

benefits of planning | planning 2017 | planners for moms | plum paper planner

You can create your own cover, choosing from a range of colors, patterns, and designs; and you can personalize it with exactly what you want your cover to say. You can choose from a variety of add-ons: notes pages, to-do lists, checklists, budget planner, meal planner, fitness planner, etc. Lots of options! You can also choose from at least 6 different layout options, vertical and horizontal. My favorite is the ME option, which allows you to customize your own headings in your planner. {My personal planner is labeled Events, Projects, Tasks (plus 3 blank sections), and Blessings. My homeschool planner is labeled Reading, Tapestry (for our Tapestry of Grace material), Assignments, Meeting Times, Notes, and a couple of blank sections.} Not to mention, they are beautiful!

plum paper planner coupon code | planner review | planners for moms | homeschool planner

And as a special thank you to my blog followers, Plum Paper has provided a special 10% off coupon code for you all, good through March 31! Just visit their website and at checkout enter the code GRACE10 for your 10% off.

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

I don’t always get to complete my well-laid plans: the unexpected happens in my life on a regular basis, and disorder is a constant, it seems. But the benefits of planning extend beyond the chaos that life can bring. At the very least, planning brings order and beauty to one small space in the messy disorder of my life. And I can live with that.

Take a look at specifically how I plan our homeschool: 5 Steps to Traditional Lesson Planning & Loop Planning with File Folders.

2016 Fifth Grade Curriculum

fifth grade homeschool curriculum | classical dialecticI’m flabbergasted that I’m teaching fifth grade this year. Fifth! When did this happen?

As sad as I am to see all the little boyishness disappear, I do love to see who he is becoming—the thoughtful questions he asks, the deep discussions he initiates, the connections he makes. It is rewarding to see him grow.

It’s just one more reason that this year is so exciting. My son is starting his second rotation through history, finishing the grammar stage of learning and edging into dialectic. This year for fifth grade, he will be comparing civilizations and contrasting mythology with the Bible. My husband’s post-graduate degree in apologetics is coming in handy to answer all of his deep questions, as well. So here’s what’s in store for fifth grade.

Core resources:

Extras:

I still keep his assignments mostly 10 to 15 minutes, with math taking slightly longer at about 20 minutes, which means he can still finish his independent assignments in a couple of hours. He meets with me for about a half hour 3-4 days a week, and then 1-2 days a week we all come together for a couple of hours of history read-alouds and projects. He’s also grading his own daily work this year, which means I only grade tests and quizzes. It’s a schedule that gives us a lot of variety without draining their enthusiasm. As a matter of fact, I think the variety feeds our enthusiasm.

 Check out our curriculum for 3rd grade and preschool, too.

2016 Third Grade Curriculum

3rd grade homeschool curriculum | homeschooling dyslexiaI’m excited for this year for so many reasons, but I’m especially excited for Middlest’s third grade year. We’ve had some major discoveries and improvements with diet/behavior over the last year and were beginning to see the fruits of that at the tale-end of second grade. I’m also eager to see her dyslexia improve with some of the curriculum changes and adjustments we’ve made. In one sense, I can’t wait to see what she is capable of now that her body is healthy and functioning well and all the pieces are in place. Here’s what’s in store for Middlest for the third grade.

Core resources:

Extras:

Middlest was only a toddler the last time we studied Ancient History. Even so, she remembers many of her favorite book titles from that study and several of our projects. That’s one of my favorite aspects of Tapestry of Grace specifically and whole-family learning in general. She is excited about getting to read her favorites on her own this time, to her little brother. I’m excited about seeing her understanding deepen this time around with new books and projects.

Writing and spelling related activities are ones that I help her with quite a bit, partly because of her difficulties with these and partly because of the anxiety her dyslexia causes her. This topic could probably be a post of it’s own, but I’ll keep it short. At this stage, I frequently allow her to “write” orally while I act as her scribe. Sometimes, she will use these narrations as copywork, copying her own words that I wrote down (with all correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation). Other times, I will use a sentence or so as dictation, having her copy down her own words as I read them back to her. Later this year, we will be working toward the writing “process” of having her write her own thoughts with all their imperfections and then editing it together before she writes or types the final copy.

I’m loving this set-up for her third grade year. It feels like the perfect fit, and I can’t wait to watch her thrive.

Check out our curriculum for preschool and 5th grade, too.

Preparing Tapestry: our Fourth Year

We are headed into our fourth year of our Tapestry of Grace curriculum, which means we will have completed the cycle at the end of this year. (It also means this is my last year of all grammar level.) Last year, I felt like we really made Tapestry our own and found our rhythm, our stride. It felt good, like a fitted glove. Of course, when you end a year like that, it makes planning the next year exciting. I love the aspect of homeschooling where I trouble-shoot and research and find our answers, but the Lord knew I would be doing that in several other areas of our life; so homeschooling was off the hook. No massive revamping this year. With that said, preparing Tapestry for this year went really smoothly.

In summary, I love manilla folders. I keep 36 folders for our weekly “must-do” assignments like language and math and Latin. Then I keep a second set of folders for Tapestry that are labeled by Term (we do three 12 week terms) and by topic (I don’t cover everything; instead, I select the events and topics that will best suit my learners). All of our reading lists, media lists, and project papers are printed off and filed in these topic folders.

So here’s what it looks like. At the beginning of a week, I pull out two folders: the week we are in and the topic we are studying. Within the weekly folder, I pull out assignment pages and file into the kids’ daily pockets inside their binders (we use case-it binders with the accordion file inside). Within the topic folder, I look at my list all of the books and projects assigned for that topic and the number of weeks that I’ve guessed it will take us to complete (i.e. Titanic, 2 weeks). I then allocate those assignments that will fit with our week’s schedule. Last year, this method cut my weekly prep to about 30 to 45 minutes total! Both kids filed and ready to go in around a half hour. It was beautiful.

Reading Lists

Tapestry’s reading lists are copyrighted, so I can’t share the specific book titles that we are using. However, I will list a couple of other resources I use to compare and substitute book titles. SimplyCharlotteMason.com has a book finder feature that I love. Just type in the event or person you are studying, the reading level of your students, and a great list of engaging living books is listed for you. My second resource is my local library online catalogue search feature. Again, I type in the event or person, narrow it to children’s resources, and voila! I love my local library. It has an enormous selection.

I also use SimplyCharlotteMason’s Story of America and Story of the Nations ebooks as my core. These are not Tapestry titles, but the table of contents make it very easy to assign chapters that fit what we are covering. And the books are very engaging. We love them.

I select my favorites. Depending on how long we intend to study a topic, for each week I will select one to two read-aloud titles, one to two independent reading titles per child (depending on the length of the book), and the rest will be assigned merely as reference, as in “let’s look at more pictures.”

Media List

I love audios. Awhile back I scored Diana Waring’s history audio from Answers in Genesis‘ history program. We love listening to these on the way back and forth to karate and co-op. So, on the days we don’t get to our reading, we are still getting to our history. And this is another very engaging resource.

Netflix is also a resource where I search for related films to what we are studying. We don’t always get to this, but it is great for those off-days or sick days to already have this list compiled.

Projects

Homeschool in the Woods is not a Tapestry resource either, but we LOVE these projects. I use the Time Traveler activities. We make notebooking pages using both the notebooking and lapbooking project ideas. Especially since my kids are finally old enough to do their own cutting and pasting, these have been really fun activities to assign. They work on these while I read-aloud. It keeps their fingers busy but doesn’t distract them from the reading.

I generally choose the projects that fit what we are studying, our time-frame, and my kids’ interests. I spend one long afternoon printing all of my chosen activities and filing into my topic folders. This saves me so much time during the school year.

I also have the Draw Through History titles. My son loves to draw; my daughter loves to trace. And it gives them some ideas for drawing and enhancing their notebook with images of what we are studying.

Our Rhythm

I mentioned that I note about how many weeks I think a topic will take us. Last year, this was very fluid. We moved on when our books were read and our projects were done. And I found that in the end, things balanced out. Some topics took longer than I estimated, and some topics didn’t take as long. If we read everything in a week, we moved on. If it took us five weeks, because of interest or illness, we took our time and enjoyed it all. Sometimes, it was just a dud, and rather than struggle through 3 more weeks of something we were not enjoying, we covered the basics and moved on.

I’m also sensitive to my kids’ reading interests. There were some books that my son just hated, and while I realize that not all learning can be interest-driven, I think at the younger levels, reading should be. Occasionally, I’d make a call that he just needed to get through a book. But if I made that call, I ensured that I had a very tantalizing book as a reward when he finished. There were books we didn’t read cover-to-cover. (Pause for you to gasp in horror.) We survived, and were no worse for that decision.

In spite of all that flexibility, I was amazed by how much my kids retained and learned. A little went a really long way.

What about discipline and teaching kids to push through the difficult stuff? I split my subjects into two categories: our discipline subjects like math, grammar, spelling; and our inspiration subjects like history, science, and reading. This helped me define my objectives. My discipline subjects were challenging but in short spurts (no more than 15-20 min. per lesson/subject). My inspiration subjects were kept inspiring and interesting and often took closer to an hour or hour and a half (hands-on projects take awhile). But again, I watched my kiddos. If they were engaged, we took our time. If their eyes were glossing over, it was time for lunch.

Want to know more specifics? I’ve listed our specific curriculum choices here. Feel free to browse those links. Not sure what your homeschool style is? Be encouraged with my post about losing the labels.

I’m looking forward to another really great homeschool adventure, and I hope you tag along on our journey.